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Manatee viewing center in Apollo Beach reopens today

When the waters of Tampa Bay begin to cool, hundreds of sea cows will seek warmth around Tampa Electric’s Big Bend Power Station.
A manatee swims in the discharge canal next to the Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Center at the Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Published Nov. 1
Updated Nov. 1

There might not be much to see just yet, but Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach officially reopened for the season today.

When the temperature of Tampa Bay drops below 68 degrees, manatees seek warmth in the outflow canal at TECO’s Big Bend Power Station.

Lately, water temperatures have been in the low 80s, so manatees are content in the shallow coastal waters, rivers and springs they typically occupy.

When those waters begin to cool, manatees will move to the canal, where visitors can catch a glimpse of them from boardwalks and other vantage points.

Manatees started appearing in the canal after TECO began operating Big Ben Unit 4 in 1986. Florida designated the area an official manatee sanctuary that same year, and in 2002 it was named a federal sanctuary.

The center, which averages close to 300,000 visitors a year, welcomed its five millionth in 2017.

Until the manatees arrive, visitors can interact with cownose rays and horseshoe crabs in a touch tank. The Florida Aquarium brings the rays that reside in the centerfield tank at Tropicana Field to the viewing center during baseball’s offseason.

Butterfly gardens and a tidal walk featuring native and coastal plants are among other attractions at the center.

At the west end of the nature trail is a 50-foot observation tower. On a clear day, you can see all the way across Tampa Bay.

Inside the viewing center’s environmental education building, visitors can view immersive displays, inspect manatee bones and piece together puzzles.

The center, located at 6990 Dickman Rd. in Apollo Beach, is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today through April 15.

It will be closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve (at 3 p.m.), Christmas Day and Easter.

Admission and parking are free.

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